Chapter 1. A primer on design industry terminology

It’s easy to think of design as how things look. Fonts, colours, textures, grids, mood boards – that sort of thing. This is graphic design: it’s still important in its own way, but it’s now just a small part of what the digital design industry has become.

Today, design is far less about how you decorate things, and far more about how you persuade and influence people into doing things. It’s mainly about tracking, testing, psychology, behavioural economics, statistics and empirical scientific research. In other words, it’s all about achieving business goals and making money.

You might not realise it, but when you use popular apps or websites, the details of everything you click on and scroll through usually gets recorded. Then it gets analysed, carefully. In big companies like Meta, Amazon, Netflix and Google, they have teams of people paid six-figure salaries, tasked to work out how to make more money out of you. Every day, your behaviour is tracked and you take part in quantitative research (e.g. ‘A/B tests’ or ‘multivariate tests’) to work out what will make you click, buy or agree to the legal terms. It’s important to understand that the same research methodologies can be used to help or harm users. It depends on the intent of the business owner. It just so happens that deceptive patterns are easy to build and deliver measurable outcomes, so deception is commonplace unless a business owner takes a strong position on preventing it from happening.

Deceptive patterns aren’t always the result of rigorous research and careful craftsmanship – sometimes they’re just profitable accidents. Consider the example of a subscription offer that doesn’t clearly explain the nature of the ongoing charges, just because the writer didn’t take due care. This might result in a surge of revenue, which the business may then come to rely on, and they may not even understand why.

I’m going to use some industry terms in this book, so I’ll define them here.


This is the general term that’s used to refer to an app or a website or any other piece of software that people use. The Amazon app is a product. So is the Facebook website. You get the general idea. Sometimes companies prefer to refer to their business as offering a ‘service’, particularly if it involves customers interacting with different people and numerous touchpoints over a period of time.

Product managers

In most modern organisations, a single individual is directly responsible for all of the decision-making for a given product or feature. This person is known as the product manager (PM). They’re usually like a mini CEO, responsible for everything within the realm assigned to them, though the exact title and job description varies. If a deceptive pattern is created, then the PM of that product should know about it. They should know why it’s been created, what purpose it serves, how many users interact with it and how it makes money. This is handy to know if you’re ever involved in choosing who to subpoena in a class action lawsuit.


A user is the category of person for whom the product is intended, rather than ‘all humans on the planet’. In the industry, we sometimes say active users for people who regularly use a product, and target users to include those for whom it is intended, but who might not be using it yet. The terms ‘monthly active users’ (MAU) and ‘daily active users’ (DAU) are also commonly used when measuring the success of a product, and deceptive patterns are often used to boost these numbers...

Buy the book to

Since 2010, Harry Brignull has dedicated his career to understanding and exposing the techniques that are employed to exploit users online, known as “deceptive patterns” or “dark patterns”. He is credited with coining a number of the terms that are now popularly used in this research area, and is the founder of the website He has worked as an expert witness on a number of cases, including Nichols v. Noom Inc. ($56 million settlement), and FTC v. Publishers Clearing House LLC ($18.5 million settlement). Harry is also an accomplished user experience practitioner, having worked for organisations that include Smart Pension, Spotify, Pearson, HMRC, and the Telegraph newspaper.